For our next class, we are going to go a-hunting, tale-type hunting. I am going to bring an assortment of texts, some folktales and some not, that I will give you to track down. Your means of determining the nature of the texts will be the Tale-Type Index and the Motif Index. You will, I think, fairly quickly figure out how to use those two instruments to your best advantage.
It might also be a good moment to think about the nature of such cataloging efforts. One place to begin, as a kind of quick review of the origins and development of the indices is the Wikipedia entry on the Aarne–Thompson classification systems. (There is a separate entry on motif worth reading.) Once there, you will see a reference to a rather recent, in terms of the indices themselves, consideration by Alan Dundes’ “The Motif-Index and the Tale Type Index: A Critique”. (There is also Hans-Jörg Uther’s assessment in “Classifying Folktales”.)
The two indices work together to catalogue those tales within their pages by their constiuent parts, motifs. As a number of observers have remarked, this is no small matter and has lead some to regard the entire enterprise as hopeless, given the seemingly endless variability of the human imagination.
And yet, as seemingly old-fashioned as the tale-type and motif indices would seem to be, we have re-created them in TV Tropes. And so, it would seem, some of you have already played a drinking game to tale types. Congratulations.